DeltaDays: Diversity in research

What responses can be made to the constantly changing world? Last week, the CSM community examined how diversity affects student’s lives at school and how students should celebrate the differences that are experienced in our community. Dr. Roel Sneider, in his lecture on diversity in the research environment, asked the question, “Why should we care about diversity?” Sneider then proceeded to answer his own question by stating, “I don’t know if you [have] noticed, but our world is changing… 30% of the US belongs to an ethnic minority.” While this certainly will not come as a surprise to many, it should cause us to stop and critically examine how we have made our school environment more open to minorities.

Sneider pointed out that if students do not actively pursue making opportunities here at Mines more accessible to minorities, they will naturally be put at a disadvantage. “We love to think that everyone has the same opportunities. We like the story of how the newspaper boy rises to be CEO. But the reason that story is so nice is because it almost never happens.” The school environment at this level of the education system is tailored to fit a certain category or demographic. This excludes many minorities from truly excelling in this environment, because it requires a radical departure from who they are. Students would do well to find new ways to tailor the school to fit a wider demographic.

This tailoring process, according to Sneider, has to start with the faculty. “Faculty [have] to be a role model, setting an example for students… respecting differences in others.” The faculty have more control over the feel of a classroom than any other person; they set the precedent, the tone of the group. This applies not only to the classroom but also to advising and research groups. If the faculty would step out and go the extra mile to highlight the unique skills and abilities of students, everyone would benefit.

To better understand how to make this campus more open to diversity, Sneider asked, “Is there a group you’re not comfortable with? Are you equally comfortable with everyone? Think about some of the reasons why [you’re not comfortable with that group].” Sneider argued that the first step toward making this a place where everyone is comfortable and can interact is to find out what makes everyone uncomfortable. Once everyone knows that, everyone can work toward breaking down those walls and smoothing out those rough spots.

Another aspect of making Mines more diversity-friendly is based upon how professors and instructors approach the classroom. Sneider said, “How would your teaching change if you approached your students with a feeling of humility instead of superiority?” He further encouraged professors and instructors to view students as not less intelligent then they, but rather as equals with less experience; fewer years of doing math, physics, or chemistry.

All of this talk about making Mines an open place is great, but without action nothing will be accomplished. Sneider encouraged everyone to “look at that group that you’re not comfortable with, now think of one little thing you can do to learn more about that group, to become more comfortable with them.” He continued, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to interact with the group you’re not comfortable with.” Mines is a great institution, and making it more diverse can only make it better.

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